October 21, 2008

Split weekend sees women’s soccer stumble, rebound

During the women’s soccer games Friday and Sunday, it seemed like scoring opportunities couldn’t have come any more easily. Actual goals, though, were another story.

In two crucial UAA matchups, the Maroons (7–5–1, 2–2 UAA) almost always dictated the action but still fell to Brandeis (8–5–1, 2–2) 1–0 in Friday’s match, before capping the weekend with a 2–1 result over NYU (8–5, 2–2).

Playing Brandeis, Chicago controlled possession throughout and piled up a 24–8 advantage in shots, but as tantalizingly close as they were at times, the Maroons never once found the net.

“In the first half, we had nine shots, and of those nine shots, at least four were great scoring opportunities, chances you should finish,” head coach Amy Reifert said. “And we just didn’t—which was the game, quite honestly.”

The Judges, for their part, didn’t have many looks at goal, and several of their credited shots were harmless long balls that fourth-year keeper Polly Cline easily caught. But Brandeis made the most of what it had and got on the board in the 55th minute, when third-year forward Melissa Gorenkoff sent the ball to third-year midfielder Mimi Theodore in the box. Theodore received the pass, turned, and chipped it past Cline for the lead.

That was the end of the scoring for Brandeis, though, and had the Maroons connected at any point before or after, they might have at least managed a tie. Again and again, though, their offense came up wanting—the same problem the team faced previously against Lake Forest, Emory, and UW–Eau Claire.

“That’s soccer. It happens every year,” Reifert said. “We’re a very good team, and we’re creating a lot of great chances, and that’s the frustrating part, that we don’t have the results to show for how well we’ve played. We’ve had these issues in other years, but it’s so burnt us this year.”

Dropping one to the Judges was unexpected for this year’s Maroons, who were picked preseason to finish second in the UAA, four spots ahead of Brandeis. But the Judges may have more talent than many predicted: This past Sunday, they were tied with 15th-ranked Wash U (11–2–1, 4–0), the defending conference champion, until the 85th minute.

Any concerns that Friday’s offensive woes would carry over into Sunday’s date with NYU were allayed early on, when fourth-year midfielder Siggy Nachtergaele scored in the fourth minute.

Nachtergaele’s goal came off an assist from second-year defender Claire Denz, who got the ball on the right wing and then crossed it into the box. It looked like Denz’s pass was intended for fourth-year midfielder Olivia Ndybagye, and the Violets’ defense was drawn mostly toward her. Ndyabagye let the ball go by, though, leaving it for Nachtergaele, who ran on and fired it past second-year keeper Alex Walters.

Impressive as that goal was, the Maroons probably topped it when they scored again in the 42nd minute. This time, it was second-year defender Kate Manuelli who brought it down the right wing, then lofted it high in the air to the far post. First-year midfielder Liza Wagner got a head on it there, but rather than trying for a shot, Wagner played it back across the mouth of the goal, and second-year midfielder Sarah Loh stepped in and nodded it home.

Although NYU pressured Chicago’s defense throughout the game, the Maroons were generally able to deflect their attacks, and they maintained their two-goal lead almost until the end of the game.

With less than three minutes to go, though, Chicago’s defense cracked, first letting NYU get onto the board, and then nearly letting them tie up the match.

The Violets’ goal came in the 88th minute, when second-year forward Laura Palumbo possessed the ball in the center of the Maroons’ box, about 15 yards from the goal. Chicago’s defense converged on Palumbo, leaving second-year midfielder Britta Gauthier open five yards to her right. Palumbo hit Gauthier with a pass, and Gauthier chipped a shot at the goal, where Cline got a finger on it, but couldn’t keep it from bouncing in.

After Gauthier scored to bring NYU within one, it seemed like the Maroons’ defense, which had been solid all game, couldn’t do anything right. The Violets got several good looks, including two free kicks, in the final moments and Chicago looked helpless to clear the ball. Somehow, though, the Maroons kept the ball out of their goal until time expired and snuck out a 2–1 win.

“NYU has won quite a few games this year, and they were like, ‘Hey, there’s blood in the water, we have our chance again,’” Reifert said, describing the final minutes of Sunday’s game. “And I don’t think we panicked, we just didn’t clear the ball…well.”

The Maroons play twice in the coming week, first against Illinois Wesleyan (11–4) Wednesday, and then against North Park (4–10) Sunday. Those games offer Chicago a chance to sharpen up for their final three UAA games, which include trips to Wash U and 18th-ranked Rochester (9–3–2, 2–2).